Evans v. Thompson, No. 07-1014. The First Circuit takes a position on AEDPA: That it is constitutional in terms of the ways it limits a District Court’s ability to interpret the constitution. I can’t say I am surprised.
I am a little bemused at the logic it relies on: because “lower” Federal Court (i.e. not the Supreme Court) are created as per Congress then Congress can restrict the jurisdiction of said courts. There might be ways to save AEDPA, but this isn’t one of them. Restricting the grounds upon which habeas can be granted is a rule of decision, not a restriction upon the power of courts. If, for example, Congress divided up Massachusetts into two federal judicial districts, then, one could argue that the Eastern District of Massachusetts wouldn’t have jurisdiction over a convict in the western part of the state. Okay, the First screwed this up. But, despite this pathetic analysis, the First does admit some things: that the gap between “erroneous” and “unreasonable” is “narrow.” It seems to enumerate the areas that fall into this gap.
In a later part of the opinion, however, it admits that “ Congress cannot tell the courts what constitutional rights to recognize” but there can be procedural limitations (and it cites a bunch of judicially created ones – e.g. Teague v. Lane), and limitations on the remedy available. It draws and analogy to qualified immunity, and essentially says that AEDPA can’t be construed to prevent the District Courts from deciding whether the state courts were wrong, but only from granting relief when they were unreasonably wrong. I am sure that all the people in jail because state courts acted unconstitutionally are really happy to hear that.
The First says that, “at least in this Circuit” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)’s “clearly established” principle does not prevent lower courts from “considering lower federal court decisions, and, indeed, often do consider them.” The First then distinguishes United States v. Klein, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 128 (1871) and reiterates is differentiation between “substance” and relief and cites.
The “suspension clause” issue is rather quickly dealt with, as the First says that there have always been restrictions on the writ.